The $400,000 question in Coral Gables is how to make the city’s streets more bicycle-friendly.
That’s how much has already been budgeted for improving bike facilities, and now the City Commission has to decide how to spend it. There are a few suggestions on the table.
Two years ago, a small group of local enthusiasts came together to come up with a plan for bike lanes that connect many existing paths.
Their idea: Build bicycle lanes along Riviera Drive, running south three miles from Alhambra Circle to Ingraham Park, connecting several existing bike paths and passing by the youth center, library and Coral Gables High School. Working for free, the ad-hoc committee went for a simple proposal that members thought made sense.
Around the same time, the city got a $40,000 grant from the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization — basically a county transportation board — to pay for a study and develop a bike and pedestrian master plan for the City Beautiful. After the city put up $10,000 of its own, two consulting firms, Stantec and the Street Plans Collaborative, worked on a plan during the next year and a half.
The bicycle and pedestrian master plan, finished in April, contains a far-reaching, three-phase plan estimated to cost about $3 million over time and includes 34 miles of bike paths throughout the city. Phase One, which is expected to cost about $400,000, recommends bike lanes heading south along Salzedo Street, passing through Miracle Mile, then snaking along University Drive until U.S. 1, where it shoots east until turning south on Riviera Drive until Ingraham Park.
“Now we have to decide how to best spend the money and get the best bang for our buck,” said Mayor Jim Cason. “If there are different groups advocating, I assume they’ll come and we’ll listen to what they have to say.”
Right now, the city has a meager bike-lane network largely limited to an old and poorly maintained segment along Alhambra Circle from Coral Way to LeJeune Road, and a newer segment on Segovia Street from Bird Road north to Alhambra.
Some Gables residents have been frustrated with the city's reluctance to embrace cycling as recreation and transportation at a time when its popularity is exploding — the Census Bureau this week reported a 60 percent increase in cycling to work in the past decade across the country. Meanwhile, adjacent municipalities, including the city of Miami, Pinecrest and Palmetto Bay have been gradually adding bike lanes and greenways to promote cycling and walking.
The citizen committee, which formed in 2012, was made up of local bicyclists and employees of Mack Cycle & Fitness, a bike shop in South Miami, who live in the Gables.
Deborah Swain, vice president of a local engineering and consulting firm, commutes to work on her bicycle. As a member of the citizen committee, she said the group supports the overall master plan but thinks the city should think carefully about how it will use the already-budgeted funds.
“Individually and personally, we may have put things in different sequence,” she said. “We’re not experts. We’re just people who like to ride bicycles.”
Another committee member who worked extensively on the plan, Sue Kawalerski, said she had strong reservations about the master plan’s first phase — particularly with the intersection at Bird Road and University Drive, where there is an east-west gap between the northern and southern sides of University.
“You’re jeopardizing cyclists,” she said.
Tony Garcia, principal of the Street Plans Collaborative, told the Miami Herald that the preferred initial route along University Drive and Salzedo was selected because it connects a large body of cyclists at the University of Miami with downtown Miami, where many students live. This was based on counts of cyclists on those roads at different times of the day, as well as data from the school on the number of registered bikes on campus, where freshmen can’t have cars.
He said the fact that many motorists speed on University north of Bird, which many cyclists already use, is all the more reason to put bike lanes on the road. The addition of bike lanes on streets has been shown to reduce the speed of motorized traffic.
“We really felt connecting UM, which has the largest captive audience of cyclists, with downtown was important,” Garcia said. “We feel the city has a life-safety responsibility to make it better for the people who are using it right now.”
If those initial bike routes get good use, as he believes they will, that would increase public support for implementing the next phase of the plan.
He also noted that the full plan fully integrates the route proposed by the Mack Cycle group, and calls for implementing a portion — from U.S. 1 south to Cocoplum Circle — in the first phase.
"They wouldn't get all of it in the first phase, but they would get it in the next,'' he said.
The City Commission is expected to discuss the plan at its May 27 meeting.